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Prof. Kurup Speaks about His Electronic Nose, Tongue

Faculty Researcher Delivers University Professor Lecture

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Prof. Pradeep Kurup discusses his interdisciplinary research during his recent University Professor Lecture.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Prof. Pradeep Kurup loves sensing danger. Among his research projects funded by the National Science Foundation is the development of an innovative electronic “nose” that can sniff for traces of TNT and other explosives as tiny as one part per trillion, or even smaller. 

The longtime faculty member and researcher in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering has also invented a novel electronic “tongue” that can detect and identify traces of toxic heavy metals — such as arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, zinc and thallium — in soil and groundwater. The technology is attracting attention from federal regulators and industry, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is working with Kurup on testing the probe in the field.

“The electronic nose and tongue can be applied in the areas of environmental monitoring, food and agricultural inspections, medical diagnostics and homeland security,” notes Kurup.

These are just some of the innovations that Kurup highlighted in his recent University Professor Lecture — entitled “Sniffing and Tasting the Fruits of Interdisciplinary Research” — at Alumni Hall on North Campus.

Kurup gave his talk to students, faculty, staff and school administrators as part of his appointment as the newest Distinguished University Professor. The award honors him for his exemplary teaching, outstanding research and extraordinary service to UMass Lowell for nearly two decades.

In his talk, Kurup described the work that he and his co-researchers from civil and environmental engineering, physics and applied physics, chemistry, mathematics, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, electrical and computer engineering and plastics engineering are conducting using artificial neural network and data fusion to mimic the human olfactory and gustatory systems. He discussed the three types of sensors they use in the electronic nose (conjugated polymer fluorescence sensors, tin oxide nanowire sensors and surface acoustic wave sensors) and how they can achieve 100 percent accuracy in identifying explosives in seconds. He also showed how the team can “taste” lead in fruits such as strawberry and in apple juice.

Kurup said results from their research have been published in three technical reports, 29 peer-reviewed publications and more than 20 presentations. They are now working with the university’s New Venture Development to commercialize the technologies.

If you missed Kurup’s lecture, you can watch it on the Library's Campus Voices website

World-Class Researcher and Educator

“The designation of University Professor is the highest award that UMass Lowell can bestow on a faculty member in recognition of his or her outstanding teaching, research and service,” says department chair Prof. Clifford Bruell. “We are honored that Dr. Kurup is a member of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.”

Bruell, who nominated Kurup for the award, adds: “The range of Dr. Kurup’s research work is impressive and its quality, outstanding. He is also an enthusiastic and passionate teacher who cares deeply about student learning. He has been successful in creating and sustaining an effective environment for learning of the highest quality and in integrating research and education.”

“Prof. Kurup has been lauded by his peers and students for his exemplary teaching, for nationally and internationally acclaimed research and for outstanding service to the university community and to his profession,” notes Provost Ahmed Abdelal. “He is superbly qualified to be the newest University Professor.”

Kurup’s three-year term as Distinguished University Professor will run through August 2017. Previous honorees include Susan Braunhut (Biology), 2008–11; Ken Geiser (Work Environment), 2009–12; Robert Giles (Physics), 2010–13; Regina Panasuk (Education), 2011–14; Stephen McCarthy (Plastics Engineering), 2012–15 and Laura Punnett (Work Environment), 2013–2016.